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1/15/15 - Growing number of Alaskans sign up for Obamacare

Twice as many Alaskans enrolled for health insurance as last month

The federal government said about 16 thousand Alaskans have signed up for health insurance on since open enrollment period began Nov. 15. That's about 3,000 more than signed up during the initial 6-month open enrollment period, and half of them are renewals.

Regional Health and Human Services director Susan Johnson, said 16,000 is “huge."

"We've almost doubled the numbers from last month until now so it seems very strong to me,” said Johnson. “It's not a best kept secret, I think the on-the-ground navigators and assisters are out and about doing work, and people are showing up and wanting to get covered."

Enroll Alaska is also pleased with the number of Alaskans it’s signed up for health insurance during this enrollment period – 1,300. Operations manager Aimee Crocker said about three fourths of those enrollments are renewals. She said the numbers would likely be higher except for some federal and insurance company administrative glitches. For example, Crocker said a batch of enrollments from November didn't make it to the insurers until December 31.

"Right now we're spending a lot of time administratively trying to make sure the clients we have assisted have their plans in place," said Crocker."We don't want to take on too much and not be able to help the people we promised those services to."

Both Crocker and Susan Johnson expect the pace of enrollments to pick up as the deadline of Feb. 5 approaches. After that, you can only sign up for health insurance if you have a big life change like a new job.

The federal government said 90% of applicants qualify for subsidies. Still, Crocker said rising insurance costs have caused sticker shock for some. She said some customers have opted to pay the tax penalty instead, which for the 2014 tax year will be 95 dollars or 1% of yearly income, whichever is higher.


Owners of proposed Pebble Mine raise $13 million

Northern Dynasty, the company that owns the proposed Pebble Mine, is bolstering its financing as it looks for a new partner. The company announced Tuesday that it  has raised $13 million by selling private shares to  investors. Northern Dynasty is in a legal and regulatory fight over the project, though it has not yet submitted permit applications. Fishermen and Native groups in the Bristol Bay area say the gold and copper mine is a threat to the region's water quality and to salmon runs.


Boards of Fisheries and Game back Sam Cotten for Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Sam Cotten’s name is the only one the boards of Fisheries and Game sent to Governor Bill Walker as prospective commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (DFG). None of the other three candidates were even interviewed. Cotten was born in Juneau and he’s a former speaker of the House. As acting commissioner, he said he’s working with DFG staff on the budget. Cotten said other funding sources may help soften the severity of budget cuts caused by low oil prices.

"All department are looking at a couple different levels,” said Cotten. We've submitted a 5% and 8% reduction in general fund expenditures to the Office of Management and Budget. I think all departments have done that. We're trying to figure to how best to deal with that.”

“We have some opportunities with federal funds and with some other fish and game funds,” Cotten continued. “So, we’re going to deal with it and we'll do our best to adapt to whatever the final budget numbers are."

If Walker submits Cotten's name to the Legislature, his appointment is subject to a confirmation vote by a majority vote of lawmakers during a joint session, likely in April.